Volume 23, Number 4, Winter 2012

A New Standard for Incapacitated Patient Decision Making: The Clinical Standard of Surrogate Empowerment

Marc Tunzi

The Journal of Clinical Ethics 23, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 316-30.


Founded upon the primacy of the principle of respect for autonomy, three methods of surrogate decision making traditionally have been promoted to help the family and friends of incapacitated patients. Unfortunately, the standards of advance directives, substituted judgment, and best interests are often inadequate in practice. Studies report that few patients have formal, written advance directives; that patients often change their minds about treatment over time; that many patients are simply not ready or willing to plan ahead—in part, because some patients and families simply don’t believe in autonomy; that those patients who do plan ahead often do not communicate their plans; and that while some patients want their directives followed strictly, many prefer that their surrogates use judgment in making decisions. After reviewing articles describing a variety of alternative approaches, a new clinical standard of surrogate empowerment is proposed to reconcile and integrate these observations and concepts. The “procedure” for this clinical standard is presented.

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